Tens of thousands of demonstrators overflowed Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to support a right-wing government Sunday night in a rally titled “United for the Land of Israel.”
“There is a real danger of a leftwing government, even though most of the public doesn’t want [Zionist Union leaders] Tzipi [Livni] and Buji [Isaac Herzog] as prime minister and want to see me continue,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the crowd.
Netanyahu warned the demonstrators that the gap between Zionist Union and Likud votes will determine who forms the next government.
“We have to close the gap; we can close the gap,” he declared.
Asking the demonstrators to avoid violence and provocations, the prime minister vowed, amid cheers, that the Land of Israel “will never be divided again.”
Referencing his speech before both houses of the US Congress, Netanyahu said that “even when facing the greatest pressures, we present the truth of the people of Israel to the whole world.”
“We protect the unity of Jerusalem.
We build in Jerusalem.
That is not the way of Tzipi and Buji,” Netanyahu said. “Livni criticized our decision to build in Jerusalem. If Jews can’t build in Jerusalem, where can they build? Buji said he saw Jerusalem as the political capital [of a Palestinian state and of Israel].
They’re trying to hide it, but that is their real stance.”
The crowd booed when Netanyahu mentioned V15, a getout- the-vote organization dedicated to his defeat, and said that massive amounts of funds are coming in from abroad to “replace Likud with a left-wing government supported by the United Arab List” (which is actually called the Joint List) and bring concessions and evacuations.
“They think that if we didn’t evacuate [settlements] we didn’t do anything,” he said. “As long as Likud is in charge, there will be no more concessions and no more withdrawals.”
The demonstration came a week and a day after a major demonstration opposing Netanyahu, at which no politicians spoke but former Mossad chief Meir Dagan said the prime minister is endangering the country. The left-wing demonstration appeared to have fewer attendees than Sunday’s rally, which had greater spillover into the surrounding streets, but police would not provide estimates of how many people participated in either event.
The villain of the night, mentioned by nearly all of the speakers, was Yair Gerbuz, an artist who, speaking at the left-wing rally, described rightwing voters as “shouters of ‘Death to Arabs,’ thieves and bribe-takers..., amulet-kissers, idol worshipers and bowers...
at the graves of saints” who took over the country. His comments sparked criticism that what he said was “racist” against Sephardim, but Gerbuz refused to apologize in several media interviews.
Conflating Gerbuz’s comments with ones by playwright Yehoshua Sobol calling kissing a mezuza stupid, Netanyahu said: “What’s wrong with kissing a mezuza? We believe in Jewish traditions and our eternal values.”
“For 2,000 years we struggled to return to our land.
Now we have to protect our homeland and Jerusalem. That is my mission and that is your mission,” he declared. “I have great faith in the strength of the people of Israel.”
Bayit Yehudi chairman Naftali Bennett also referred to Gerbuz, saying that he makes sure to kiss every mezuza he sees after hearing the comments.
“This election is about one thing: Will Israel be Jewish?” he said.
“We love the people of Israel.
We love the Land of Israel.
We love the Torah of Israel. We love IDF soldiers, and we really, really aren’t apologizing for it,” Bennett declared.
Earlier Sunday, Central Elections Committee chairman Justice Salim Joubran rejected a Meretz attempt to have an injunction issued to stop the rally. However, Joubran declared the rally a political event and said local councils in the West Bank cannot contribute government funds to it. He also did not allow singer Amir Benayoun to perform, because having a free performance by an artist is specifically mentioned by law as an illegal campaign gift.
As such, Bennett brought his guitar to the event, and after criticizing Herzog for visiting the Western Wall while being willing to divide Jerusalem, played “Jerusalem of Gold” and the crowd sang along with him.
“The Left tried to silence us and prevent this rally. The Central Elections Committee said no artists and no songs here. We will not be silenced; we will not stop singing,” Bennett said.
Bennett, like Netanyahu before him, touched on socioeconomic issues and said: “We don’t need to divide the Land of Israel to lower the price of cheese.”
“My parents taught me that the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel,” the Bayit Yehudi chairman said, adding in English, speaking to the international press: “One cannot occupy his own home.”
Yahad leader Eli Yishai thanked God for bringing “all the tribes of Israel together,” together being the meaning of “Yahad.”
“I stand before the tens of thousands of people here and my heart is excited. I am seeing the victory of the Right against all the doubters. A strong Right will win,” he vowed.
Yishai mentioned an incident when he was interior minister in 2010, in which construction in Jerusalem was announced while US Vice President Joe Biden was visiting Israel, saying “Joe Biden was demanding I be fired over building in the Holy City of Jerusalem.”
A strong Yahad would bring an “end to talk of dividing Jerusalem. If there’s a left-wing government, there will already be talk of dividing Jerusalem on Thursday.”
For the requisite Gerbuz reference, Yishai said he is proud to kiss mezuzot, and then he quoted the text that is contained in them: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”
Other speakers at the rally included Transportation Minister Israel Katz of Likud, Bayit Yehudi MK Ayelet Shaked, and Yisrael Beytenu candidate Sharon Gal, as well as Daniella Weiss, the head of the settlement- building organization Nachala, which organized the rally, and leading religious-Zionist Rabbi Haim Druckman.
The Zionist Union responded to the rally saying that “if we needed another proof of the horror show Bibi, [Yahad candidate Baruch] Marzel and Bennett supported by extremists, we got it.”
“Bibi is the prime minister of the extreme Right and only the Zionist Union can stop them from taking over the country and the government,” the party spokesman added.
“It is clear to all that every vote that is not for the Zionist Union brings Bibi, Marzel and Bennett into the government.”